A Mitey boost for mental health

12 January, 2023

The John Kirwan Foundation’s Mitey programme has received a $150,000 grant from the ILT as part of a new joint initiative between the Sir John Kirwan (Mitey) Foundation, the Southland Express and the ILT to expand the Mitey programme into primary schools throughout Invercargill and Southland. Pictured (from left) are ILT board members (from left) Paddy O’Brien and Angela Newell, Sir John Kirwan Foundation Southland representative Belinda Brown, ILT president Alan Dennis, board member Suzanne Prentice and Southland Express general manager Chris Montgomery. PHOTO: TONI McDONALD SOUTHLAND EXPRESS

When Sir John Kirwan climbed into a Land Rover Defender in Auckland in July, little did he know the end of his road trip to Invercargill would be the start of something significant for the foundation that bears his name.

The Sir John Kirwan Foundation developed ‘‘Mitey’’ — a mental health programme for integration into the New Zealand primary school curriculum, which the Southland community has embraced.

The ILT and ILT Foundation granted $150,000 to Mitey to support a new joint initiative with Mitey and the Southland Express.

ILT chairman Allan Dennis said the board was delighted to back the ground-breaking, innovative approach to children’s mental health and support the region’s tamariki.

‘‘The programme ties together three areas that have always been apriority for ILT — youth, mental health and education.

‘‘As a board we have always talked about community resilience and how we can support that. We believe this programme will provide valuable tools to some of the most vulnerable members of our community’’ Mr Dennis said.

The ILT board recognised it was an opportunity to make meaningful inroads into youth mental health education and for Invercargill to lead the way once again.

Sir John Kirwan Foundation chief executive Tim Corbett said the Southland community’s response to the programme in Invercargill had been exceptional and swift. It was also the first province to pioneer the programme in primary schools outside the Auckland region.

‘‘So, literally, Southland is leading New Zealand.’’

He hoped Southland would pioneer a path the nation’s regions would follow.

The ILT grant would fund the programme for at least 10 Invercargill primary schools. It was hoped the programme would be in at least eight Invercargill and Southland schools by the end of the year.

The aim was for Mitey to be in up to 16 Southland schools by the end of 2023, once additional sponsors had been secured.

Each school had a one-off cost to establish the programme which could be easily sustained for many years.

The Mitey programme was different from many mental health initiatives as it focused on educating and equipping children from an early age to recognise, understand and learn how to deal with mental health, he said.

New Zealanders had the worst mental health in the world.

The foundation’s goal was not just to be the fence at the top of the cliff. ‘‘Our job was to get 500m away from the fence so they never even get there.

‘‘We’re a prevention approach, rather than a treatment approach.’’ One Southland child had said Mitey had given him the bravery to speak to his parents about wanting to see a counsellor — something he previously was unable to do, Mr Corbett said.

He expected there would initially be an increase in demand for children’s counselling services. But expected fewer sessions would be needed.

Southland Express general manager Chris Montgomery said he was excited about the collaborative venture between the Southland Express, ILT and Mitey.

‘‘It’s a wonderful opportunity for the Southland Express. It’s a real privilege to be able to support such a worthwhile and long-reaching community initiative for our region’s children and future generations.’’

Allied Press chief executive Grant McKenzie said, ‘‘Allied Press and the Southland Express are pleased to be involved in the Mitey programme. Assisting schoolkids in being able to deal with mental health and wellbeing issues is an investment in our future that we are proud to be associated with.’’

Waverley Park Primary School principal Kerry Hawkins said the school introduced the Mitey programme earlier this year and staff had already seen a culture shift towards good mental health with the children. He was thrilled about the grant which would allow more schools to adopt the programme.

‘‘I think that is one of the best investments in the future of Invercargill kids that the ILT has made.’’

He thought all ILT grants to educational issues were valuable, but this one addressed one of New Zealand’s largest Achilles heels.

‘‘If we can send kids into adulthood mentally healthier than the generation before them, then the return on that will be massive.’’

Mental health used to be learned by osmosis.

‘‘If you were really lucky you had some good role models, and if you didn’t, you were screwed.

‘‘So anything we can do to teach kids to manage their own mental health is a blessing,’’ Mr Hawkins said.